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Romantic Theology

Owen Barfield--Philosopher, Critic, Inkling—


Creative Imagination and Consciousness


Course Description

The world, like Dionysus, is torn to pieces by pure intellect; but the poet is Zeus; he has swallowed the heart of the world; he can reproduce it as a living body.”—Poetic Diction

There is a secret, poorly kept by scholars, of a hidden influence on the lives and works of C. S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien. and many others. That secret is Owen Barfield (1898-1997), a disciple of Rudolph Steiner, Platonic philosopher, literary critic, and fellow Inkling. Although not the premiere member of the Oxford literary group, Barfield was the first of the group to publish fantasy fiction and the last of the group to pass into Narnia. Often called “the first and last Inkling,” Barfield was a solicitor (lawyer), a dancer, a poet, a philologist, a philosopher/theologian, and devoted friend. C. S. Lewis called him the first of his “second friends,” the kind of friend who loves everything you love and disagrees about the significance of it on every turn. Tolkien said Barfield was the only member of the Inklings who could stand up against C. S. Lewis in an intellectual debate. Lewis and Tolkien both said Barfield’s theory of language and myth, especially as revealed in his book Poetic Diction, influenced them greatly. And though Tolkien is often credited with Lewis’s conversion to Christianity (in a single night’s conversation), Barfield is still not credited enough for a much longer exchange (of about a decade) which led Lewis to abandon Atheism and eventually come to belief in God.

Romantic Theology is a term coined by Charles Williams and carried out collaboratively with his friends—C. S. Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Owen Barfield, and others, in “our little literary club” known as the Inklings. In their shared vision and love of Greek and Norse mythology, Arthurian legends, Celtic sagas, and romantic poetry, they produced an enduring treasure of theological
fantasies and spiritual writings reflecting the romantic spirit in theology. Through the portal of what Lewis called the “baptized imagination” as a trustworthy faculty for receiving Divine disclosures to be tested by scripture and reason, Romantic Theology was born. Through their example of friendship and writing projects, the Inklings inspired generations of Christians and people of goodwill to read and write with the “feeling intellect” of the heart, and not just with the discursive reasoning of the mind. 


As a literary scholar and orthodox Christian, C. S. Lewis felt that “if the real theologians were doing their job” there would be no need for lay theologians like him. Lewis and his fellow Inklings championed the creative conjunction of Logos and Mythos (Reason and Story) to produce compelling works of theological fiction. Mythopoetics—the language of myth, metaphor, poetry and narrative—was their distinctive genre to point to religious experience and
theological truths in aesthetic and concrete ways.

This course on the primary works of Owen Barfield takes up Barfield’s theory of an evolution of consciousness which is apparent in the history of language where ancient semantic unities prove that the way human beings used to think, experience, and connect to the reality around them was radically different than it is for us today. Central to Barfield’s philologically-based philosophy is a belief in the importance of myth, meaning, and imagination as tools for progressing toward a new of conscious self and nature. The course includes a look at Barfield’s relationships and influences on fellow Inklings Lewis and Tolkien, as well as an exploration of Barfield’s epistemology, anthropology, and his religious beliefs.

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  • Introduction to Owen Barfield: Man and Meaning (documentary)

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  • “After Hours with Owen A. Barfield (grandson) on Pints with Jack

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  • After Hours with Grefenstette on Barfield’s Literature on Pints with Jack 

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  • "Barfield Buffet” Part 1 --Various Speakers on Pints with Jack

  • "Barfield Buffet” Part 2 --Various Speakers on Pints with Jack

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  • “After Hours” with Dr. Mark Vernon on “A Secret History of Christianity” on Pints with Jack

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Wade Center Resources

Barfield Webpage

Owen Barfield: Man and Meaning

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